SEASON 1: OF LONGING
That spring, the difference between loving and liking Beatrice dawned on Katherine. Loving a sister, even hers, was non-negotiable. Liking her, however, was a commodity she could trade for an asset of a higher value: peace.
This realisation would’ve never dawned on Katherine had Beatrice not asked her to tag along to her photoshoot. The shoot was a few kilometres from Windhoek in a vast plain dotted with camelthorn trees and yellow grass. Katherine thought it would be the ideal time to reconnect with her sister. School had been an afterthought to Beatrice lately, so Katherine only saw her in passing on campus. However, the closest she got to speaking to Beatrice was when she directed her to change angles while taking a picture or video for Instagram.
“If the pictures are horizontal, I can’t use them in the reel.” Beatrice clicked her tongue, her eyes closed as a makeup artist painted a gold streak across her eyelids.
Katherine rolled her eyes. “You can just flip them.” She enjoyed taunting her sister. To Katherine, Instagram wasn’t such a big deal. To Beatrice, it served an essential function to her existence.
“Seriously, Kathy? Can you just—” The makeup artist told Beatrice to be still. She obeyed. Her pictures had to be perfect. Once the woman finished Beatrice’s eyes, she glared at Katherine. “Please take this seriously.”
“Okay, my queen.” Katherine curtsied. Beatrice attempted to kick her, receiving another warning from the beautician.
Katherine fanned herself with her hand and then turned Beatrice’s phone the “right” way up. The photoshoot would begin just after sunset. Everyone had to survive the next ten minutes without shrivelling from the thick heat like under-watered plants. Sunlight streamed through the camelthorn tree they were under, painting Beatrice’s face with patches of light. Katherine snapped a few pictures as Beatrice’s face was weighed down with foundation, concealer, and bright pink lipstick that turned her lips into a blooming rose.
It was strange seeing Beatrice in model mode. Externally, she was unrecognisable. But the changes also manifested in her mannerisms and personality. She gave whomever she spoke to her utmost attention, never reaching for her phone, as she often did when speaking to Katherine. She was also more of a people-pleaser around the other models, effusively complimenting them as they completed their looks. Katherine couldn’t stand being around this version of Beatrice.
And then there was the accent.
“It’s British!” Beatrice had said, amused.
Katherine guffawed. “More like African-immigrant-trying-to-fit-into-the-UK!”
Beatrice’s smile vanished. “You can’t say that. Do you know how hard it is to adapt to a foreign country?”
Katherine gawked at her sister, not knowing what to say to make herself sound less insensitive than Beatrice made her out to be.
Am I in the wrong?
But what does Beatrice know about being an immigrant?
Yes, their parents exposed them to various African cultures through travel, but they never had to endure the struggles of living in a foreign land for longer than a week. So who was she to call Katherine out on what she said?
It was like this these days: everything Katherine said was offensive to someone compared to Beatrice’s perspicacity.
While Katherine recorded another video, she recalled the last time she spoke freely to her sister without fear of judgement. It had been five months since their aunt dropped them off at their university hostel, their new home for the next four years. By then, the boxes that occupied their room were unpacked, and a hodgepodge of beds, desks, and chairs created a clear division of who occupied which side. She remembered how Beatrice droned on about freedom and peace like a human rights activist in those early days.
“We’re free, Kathy!” Beatrice held Katherine by the shoulders with a clown-like smile, shaking her lightly as if to extract joy. “Think about everything we can do now.”
Katherine felt relieved to be out of her parent’s confining nest. She was an adult, even if her fresh out-of-secondary-school mind couldn’t comprehend what this new phase might entail. But contending with the absence of parental guidance had her running circles in her mind. She felt like a hatchling left to figure out how to survive in the first five minutes of its existence. She had the childish belief that everything would remain the same between her and her sister, that their lives would be as similar as their countenances. But during first-year orientation, a small fissure erupted between them, casting them on opposite sides of a gaping hole filled with Katherine’s idealised daydreams of a four-year study extravaganza.
Beatrice portrayed their parent’s upbringing to one of her classmates as a Van Gogh painting when it was nothing more than a child’s stick figure sketch. In reality, their parents had struggled so their children wouldn’t have to, running side jobs as business consultants alongside their full-time jobs in venture-building and communications. Katherine heard the story spread amongst the first-year students, not knowing how to nip it in the bud. So she confronted Beatrice to get her to retract her words.
“Am I not allowed to write the story of my life however I want?” Beatrice said.
Katherine stared at the inside of her sister’s mouth, painted orange from the lollipop she was eating. It appeared like a perpetual sunset. “But it’s not the truth.”
Beatrice lived by that notion for the following months, writing her history however she pleased. The word about weekly dinners between their family and the prime minister’s travelled to Katherine from her classmates and friends. There was also a story about a bash thrown in Beatrice and Katherine’s honour for passing their NSSC exams.
The crevice between them widened right after taking their first exams. Beatrice and Katherine had suffered the fate of first-year students who favoured hedonistic pursuits over absorbing studying. They knew their academic records wouldn’t please their parents, so Beatrice flirted with falsifying their results.
“What if they get our transcripts from the school and see that we changed the marks?” Katherine couldn’t believe how illogical Beatrice was being.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we ever get there.”
Katherine had faced her sister’s predilection for repeatedly bending the truth before. When they were 12, Beatrice used the money she got from selling raffle tickets for their school to go to the Windhoek Show with her friends, claiming she couldn’t remember where she left them when their teacher asked. Then there was that time, at 15, when she told their babysitter that Katherine had the flu to keep her out of her room and from discovering that she was on a date with her boyfriend. Amending their academic records would be Beatrice’s greatest lie and one their parents would detect once they were required to retake (and pay for) the courses they failed.
The makeup artist stepped away, leaving Beatrice and Katherine alone.
Now is the perfect time to catch up.
Katherine had kept the happenings with her latest crush to herself for far too long. Before she could talk about it, Beatrice was called to the set. Katherine watched Cleo, the photographer, direct Beatrice and the other model, Nehale. She was back to being in Beatrice’s orbit, so she searched for a distraction, meeting the creative director’s eye.
Beatrice rested her palm on Nehale’s bare, toned chest per the photographer’s directive. One of the assistants turned on the fan by Nehale’s feet, sending Beatrice’s yellow trench coat billowing beside her like a windsock. Nehale wore matching cargo pants, which, in Beatrice’s opinion, were unflattering. She didn’t dare point that out. The designer was notorious for his innovative fashion designs and prickly attitude. During Windhoek Fashion Week the previous year he went on a Twitter rant because a fashion reporter wrote a negative review about his tilapia-inspired swimwear line. Some pieces featured real tilapia scales!
“Let’s take a break.” At Cleo’s instruction, the set erupted with activity.
Beatrice flexed her jaw and wiggled her body from head to toe to get life back into her limbs. As much as she loved modelling, being still irked her out. She preferred strutting down a runway instead of playing a mannequin. It would be another thirty minutes before the shoot wrapped up, so she had to suck it up.
Beatrice spotted Katherine seated under the camelthorn tree. Her sister fanned herself with a pamphlet while chatting with Zack, the tall and scruffy-looking Capetonian who accompanied Cleo as creative director. Beatrice accepted a bottle of water from one of the assistants, diverting her attention to her sister. She could tell from where she stood that Katherine was flirting with Zack. Her ample bosom was turned toward him, and as a boisterous chuckle escaped her, she grazed his arm.
Beatrice envied her sister’s confidence. If she had an ounce of what Katherine possessed, she wouldn’t have had to put in as much effort to hold her head high on sets and maintain her composure when eyes swept over her body. She knew her meekness was her handicap from when her modelling dream first took hold, so she hid it, blending into this world like a dove amongst pigeons. She feared her career would never take her to New York, far away from the dreary Namibian landscape if she didn’t. So when the Miss Teen Namibia pageant came around, she set her sights on it and let everything else fall into the rearview. She learned how to walk like a model on YouTube, mimicked the muted expression of models she followed on Instagram, and watched every pageant she could find to learn how to answer the judges’ questions. It was an uphill battle because her mother insisted vanity wouldn’t get her far.
“What’s in your head matters more than how you look on the outside,” her mother had said when Beatrice went to her with the application.
“But no one can see what’s in my head,” Beatrice had said, receiving pursed lips in response.
Eventually, she got the go-ahead from her mother, but Beatrice felt uncomfortable talking about her dream with her. She had snuck magazines into the house like contraband, the glossy covers featuring stunning women. Cosmopolitan, Elle, Okay, and Essence. She admired the women gracing their covers and longed to stand in their places one day.
Katherine was the only member of their family who knew of her magazine collection. They once fantasised about being as big as the DPiper twins. However, at some point, tests, friends, boyfriends, and extracurricular activities took precedence over their shared dream. Beatrice asked her sister what had changed when she first noticed that Katherine’d pulled back.
“It’s your thing. We already share so much. Modelling doesn’t have to be one of them,” Katherine had said. Beatrice didn’t trust that she was telling the truth.
Now, she considered the progression of Katherine’s life and how they had strayed so far apart. They wore matching clothes for the first eleven years of their lives. They used to play mind games with their parents’ friends at Saturday braais since they were indistinguishable. She understood it was part of growing up. Yet, she longed for the days when she believed nothing about their lives would be different because they were twins.
Cleo called the models back to their places. Beatrice embodied her alter ego, standing tall beside Nehale.
SEASON 2: OF SCREENED MESSAGES AND CALLS
Katherine tapped the button on her phone’s screen to switch to the front camera. She pouted, allowing the video recording to capture her skimpy leopard print bikini. Beatrice popped into view, blowing a kiss at the camera and the strangers and friends who’d watch Katherine’s Snapchat story.
“We’re keeping this one.” Katherine ended the video, preparing to send it out into the digital world. She watched it one last time, loving how the golden light of the setting sun complimented her and her sister’s brown skin.
This video would be another addition to the story of the family vacation in Botswana she’d been telling all week. It’d started with their arrival at the resort a day after Christmas. Katherine told her audience the trip was a gift from her parents for acing her second year of university. But she knew it was a bribe for Beatrice to toe the line of higher education.
“I think this is it for me,” Beatrice said, dropping her phone and the magazine she perused on the chaise lounge.
“What is?” Katherine put her phone aside. She turned on her side on the chaise lounge and propped her head up with her arm.
Beatrice huffed as if the conclusion she’d come to had wrapped itself tightly around her chest, torturing her to speak her truth.
“This.” She gestured at their surroundings: the sparkling pool they lounged beside, the thatched building housing the spa, and the staff walking around in lime green polo shirts.
“You want to live at this resort forever?” Katherine popped her brows, amused. “I get it. The amenities are top-notch. The weather is perfect. There’s—”
Beatrice shook her head. “Not that.” Her expression grew more serious, prompting Katherine to sit up. “I don’t want to be an economist.” Her shoulders dropped at the admission while Katherine’s breath vanished between her throat and mouth. “That’s Pa’s dream and not mine. I’m going to model full-time.”
“I can’t have my focus split between classes, assignments, shoots, and events.”
Katherine didn’t know what to say. Although she noticed that Beatrice spent more time focusing on her modelling career than school, she thought her sister would get over it eventually. Much like she abandoned their shared dream of becoming twin models and brand ambassadors for Fenty Beauty. As far as Beatrice knew, Katherine left modelling behind to give her space to flourish. In actuality, Katherine had been walking the line of indecision. It’s not realistic, Katherine had told herself, but what if it’s the best thing that ever happens to me? Her conversation with her mother at the end of her first year of university about Beatrice’s modelling career brought her clarity. “She does it in her free time. No, it’s not why she failed microeconomics. I don’t know why. Maybe ask her?” During their entire phone call, Katherine felt like she was walking in a minefield. Then her mother dropped her wisdom: “I had dreams as a young girl too, but I knew if I wanted to be respected in this world, I had to study.” And with that, she let the fire that blazed for her dream diminish to ash.
Katherine took Beatrice’s hands in hers, squeezing them gently. “Are you sure? You can always stay enrolled. Then whenever you have a shoot, I’ll help you with your assignments.”
Beatrice wagged her head. “I don’t want to put that pressure on you. You’re already so busy.” She squeezed Katherine’s hands.
Katherine knew her sister was already immersed in her dream life. The photoshoots and fashion events she attended and documented on Instagram and TikTok were evidence of the metamorphosis of her life. If she diverted from this path, it’d be like plucking a plant out of the soil. Eventually, it would wilt and die, its promise of bearing fruit or flowers becoming a thing of the past. So nothing Katherine, or their parents, said would convince her to follow any other path.
“Okay.” Katherine looked up, seeing their parents turning the corner of the pool. “But you have to tell them when we return to Windhoek.”
In the new year, Beatrice unofficially moved out of their hostel room. Katherine didn’t know where she lived, and any attempts at finding out were met with evasive statements like, “You don’t have to worry, Kathy. I’m fine,” and “I’m staying with a couple of friends. Yeah, I’m safe, mom.”
About two weeks into the new semester of her third year, Katherine learned that Beatrice hadn’t told their parents about dropping out. She should have known from their father’s calm when she had lunch with him on campus. If he knew, it would have been more intense.
“And where’s Beatrice in all of this? I hope she’s studying just as hard as you are,” her father said, cutting into his chicken schnitzel.
“Why would she have to? She didn’t register this year,” Katherine said, thinking her father forgot since he often got what they were up to jumbled up.
However, Katherine got it wrong. He didn’t confuse them. He didn’t know about Beatrice’s decision.
Katherine had no choice but to explain what she meant under the scrutiny of her father’s bespectacled eyes. She could have lied, but she knew he’d see right through her.
The truth about Beatrice’s studies was a category-five hurricane. It levelled the perfection their parents constructed for their daughters. It demolished the stability of Beatrice and Katherine’s relationship, causing the former to ice out the latter for weeks. It was reported to aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents in distant towns like something that happened to an unfortunate few.
Katherine started seeing Beatrice on social media more than in person. Although she tried to convince her sister she hadn’t betrayed her trust for malicious reasons—merely let the truth slip in her comfort with their father—Beatrice believed Katherine had it out for her.
“Just admit that you don’t believe I can be successful at this!” Beatrice had said when Katherine tracked her down. They were at Sky Bar, standing under a speaker blasting Afrobeats. The city lights twinkled below as if this was a precious moment they should cherish, not one that would define their relationship moving forward.
“How many times do I have to say this? It was a mistake, Bea.” Katherine began explaining everything about the lunch for what felt like the hundredth time, her frustration evident in her tone.
Beatrice wouldn’t hear it. She held up her hand. “Stop. I don’t want you or mom or daddy anywhere near me with all your negative vibes.”
Katherine’s breath hitched in her throat. She stared at her sister as if she’d slapped her on both cheeks. Without saying anything further, they parted ways. Beatrice returned to her group of friends, who cheered at her return. Katherine walked out of the bar with tears blurring her vision.
Katherine was flipping through her commercial law course outline when her phone rang. She reached for it, pausing at the sight of Beatrice’s name on the screen. She felt like she was being pranked. After all, Beatrice did ignore her texts and calls for the past month since she accused Katherine of doubting her abilities.
To answer would erase Katherine’s worry about her sister’s safety. However, she wasn’t ready to let Beatrice back into her life. What she’d said hurt, and who was to say it wouldn’t happen again?
So Katherine let her phone ring and focused on studying for her upcoming test.
Summer was sparring with the side effects of winter when Beatrice heard from Katherine. She was on a bus returning to the city from Etosha. Once they were close to the cell towers, her phone came to life with text messages and missed calls—some of which were from Katherine.
That’s how long it’d been since their fight.
Beatrice hadn’t stopped counting the days since that awful night because she woke up daily with marrow-deep regret for pushing Katherine away. A small part of her accepted Katherine had made a mistake. The other—more dominant—part was convinced her sister didn’t have faith in her, so she’d attempted to sabotage her.
She kept her sister and their parents at arm’s length as she said she would. In a sense, Beatrice treated Katherine the same way her parents treated her: perpetually disappointed with her actions. After they found out, they gave Beatrice an ultimatum. Either she returned to school with their full support, or she continued down the path she was on without it.
She’d chosen the latter without hesitation.
They’d cut her off emotionally and financially.
At first, Beatrice felt liberated. Then the weeks without her parents checking up on her and her sister not being a call away for reassurance took a toll. She was submerged in a pool of loneliness without a ladder to escape its chilly, chlorinated waters. Sometimes the friends she made and strangers who exited her life as quickly as they entered would help her, bringing her to the edge of loneliness long enough for her to feel something other than the emotion that haunted her days. However, she always found herself in the middle of the pool, treading water with weakening limbs and watching the life she was building play out around her.
On one of those tough days, Beatrice called Katherine, but it went unanswered. She waited for a text message or a call from her for weeks. When nothing came, the part that convinced her Katherine was against her expanded, engulfing the smaller part that believed her sister was blameless.
Now, she read Katherine’s messages with a heavy heart.
I miss you.
Can we please talk?
Dude, come on. I know I messed up. Can we please talk about it?
Her stubbornness won over her need to get rid of her loneliness. She exited their chat and tuned into the conversation at the back of the bus. As she looked around at the models she’d come to call friends, stylists, makeup artists, and photographer, she resolved to make this life alone work. She left Katherine and her parents in the past, focusing on her present.
SEASON 3: OF REUNIONS
First came the text messages, voice calls, and video chats. The revival of Beatrice and Katherine’s sisterhood was a lengthy procession. Beatrice anticipated it would be instant—the inside jokes, the comfortability, the trust. That wasn’t the case.
“Sorry we didn’t get a chance to speak earlier,” Beatrice said once she and Katherine were seated alone on the balcony with a view of the city. They were at a party at a close friend’s house in Eros. In the valley below, the streetlights appeared like fireflies caught in stasis.
“It’s fine. I didn’t know you were the host.”
“I’m helping out Ethan, that’s all.”
They both chuckled. Beatrice missed the sound of her sister’s laughter.
Although there was a palpable awkwardness initially, it eventually evaporated into the surrounding darkness.
“Congrats! I’m so proud of you.” Beatrice pulled her sister into a tight hug. “I’m sure Pa will throw you the best graduation party.”
“Yea. Thanks.” They pulled apart. Talking about their parents would only put a damper on things, so Katherine cleared her throat and said, “I got into a data science master’s program at UCT, so I’ll be moving to Cape Town in at the end of the year.”
“What? Kathy, why didn’t you lead with that?” Beatrice smacked her sister’s arm playfully. She couldn’t tell whether Katherine was excited, so she dialled down her enthusiasm. “That’s awesome. You’re going to love Cape Town.”
Beatrice felt a pinch of regret then. She missed so much of what happened in her sister’s life. But thinking about how it was all avoidable was counterproductive. She couldn’t turn back time, find her past self and coerce her into replying to Beatrice’s texts. All she could do was show Katherine that she forgave her.
As they got into the evolution of Beatrice’s life—competing in the Miss Namibia pageant and winning first place, being sent to Australia as part of an initiative with the Namibia Tourism Board—her successes felt empty as they did in the moment. They would have been more potent had Katherine been by her side to celebrate them.
“I’m thinking of moving to France next year,” Beatrice said.
“Oh.” Katherine’s brows knitted, then she forced a smile on her face. “Where exactly?”
Katherine nodded, reaching for her glass.
Beatrice wasn’t planning to tell anyone about her plan, but having Katherine here excited her. She wanted her sister’s advice, as she did when she told her about dropping out of university. But this was a tricky road to navigate because the last time Beatrice trusted Katherine with her future plans, their relationship ended up wrapped around a tree. Even though they were working to repair it, their arguments had left a mark. Beatrice wasn’t willing to address it because she felt guilty enough. But the longer they went without talking about that mark, the more permanent it’d become.
Katherine snuck glances at her sister as she recounted some drama with a friend she had never heard of, not wanting to stare outright. It was as if Beatrice hadn’t aged. In comparison, Katherine felt she had aged ten years in the past year since she last saw Beatrice. This resulted from worrying about Beatrice’s safety and stressing over getting into a master’s program her parents could approve of.
She almost burst into tears when she saw Beatrice’s WhatsApp message months ago. Being apart from Beatrice elicited chronic pain; it hurt more than breakups with friends and boyfriends. She couldn’t describe the pain. She didn’t think one word could define it.
“So yeah, enough about me. Do you—”
Someone knocked on the sliding doors behind them, cutting Beatrice short.
“Bea, where are the car keys?” It was Ethan. Beatrice claimed they were friends, but an undercurrent of electricity buzzed between them. Katherine had wanted to point it out, but she didn’t think she had access to that part of her sister’s life any longer. She didn’t know how to navigate the newness of their relationship, so she played it safe.
“Oh,” Beatrice sprang up from her seat. Before she left, she rested her hand on Beatrice’s shoulder, saying, “I’ll be right back.”
Katherine nodded, watching Beatrice disappear into the depths of the apartment filled with strangers. Hope in rebuilding what they had filled her. When Beatrice returned, she’d bring up the matter they danced around. She’d convey how hurt and worried she was. She wouldn’t leave until they found a way to move forward. It was the mature thing to do. Yet, when Beatrice returned, Katherine choked. She worried bringing it up would cause the fissure between them to widen.
“So, yea, the Gondwana campaign I did last year was my favourite,” Beatrice said while Katherine half-listened and worked up the courage to stop their dance.
Emmerita Ambata is a freelance writer and novelist from Windhoek, Namibia. Her work has appeared in Doek! (Issue 7) and the Kalahari Review. She also received the Narrating Namibia, Narrating Africa and Doek! Writing Fellowship in 2022. In 2023, she served as an editorial intern at Lolwe.